Bush Prepares to Push Ambitious Second-Term Agenda

With the inaugural festivities now over, President George Bush has begun the challenging task of moving his ambitious second-term agenda through the Congress.

Second terms have not been kind to recent U.S. presidents.  Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton all had their share of major distractions in their second terms.  In fact, in the case of President Nixon, he was forced to resign with more than two years left in his second term because of the Watergate scandal in 1974.

President Bush seems determined to break this cycle of second-term underachievement.  He has set out an ambitious domestic agenda that includes sweeping reform of the tax system and an overhaul of the government pension program known as Social Security.

As his second term begins, the president insists he is prepared to reach out to opposition Democrats, as he did at a luncheon with congressional leaders shortly after his swearing-in at the U.S. Capitol.

"As leaders, we have a common duty to achieve results for the people regardless of our political parties.  There is important work to be done and I look forward to working with members of both houses [of Congress] and both parties to achieve that job," said Mr. Bush.

But many Democrats have already signaled their opposition to the president's plan to partially privatize the Social Security program by allowing workers to invest some of their earnings in private investment accounts.

Senator Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts is one of the most senior Democrats in Congress.  He is already warning the president that any progress on Social Security or tax reform depends on genuine compromise on the part of the Bush administration.

"We, as Democrats, may be the minority in Congress, but we speak for the majority of Americans,” he said.  “If the White House idea of bipartisanship is that we have to buy whatever partisan ideas they send us, we are not interested."

Shortly after the election, Mr. Bush said he had won political capital with his victory and that he intended to spend it.

Political analysts say the president is wise to move quickly to get the most out of his political leverage before it begins to wane near the end of his second term.

Patrick Basham is a political expert at the Cato Institute, a public policy research organization in Washington.  He spoke with VOA TV.

"If the Republicans and the president do not seize the advantage that they have right now and use the political capital that they have from the election and exploit the Democratic weaknesses in the short term, they are going to find that come 2006, 2007, the [political] playing field will have leveled to a considerable degree," he noted.

Other experts note that some of the president's Republican supporters see his re-election victory as a mandate for conservative change.

Thomas Mann is an analyst at the Brookings Institution, another policy research organization in Washington.  He predicts conservatives in Congress will pressure the president to avoid compromising with Democrats.

"I think this president is very ambitious in his policy and political designs,” he explained.  “But he is very well rooted in a view of what ought to be done that really prevents him from reaching out for new ideas and compromises with Democrats."

Republicans say they are confident about the president's second term because he has a proven track record of winning public support for his policies.

But Democrats caution that Mr. Bush's popularity alone will not be enough to win approval of his sweeping reform proposals for both the tax and retirement systems.  They also point to recent public opinion polls that show the president's approval rating at just over 50 percent, which historians say is low for a president beginning his second term in office.

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